Driving certificate

The most common driving offenses in the UK and the fines and penalties you may face

While most people like to think of themselves as law-abiding citizens, it’s easy to break the law once we get behind the wheel of a car. Despite ongoing security campaigns. police forces and road safety partnerships across the country, traffic violations are still all too common.

Of course, even the most careful drivers can make mistakes, while others consistently break the rules on a daily basis. Either way, it can get you in trouble with the police and the courts.

Young drivers, aged 25 and under, are the most likely to commit a traffic violation, according to a study of the latest DVLA figures by online car rental comparison site Moneyshake. It found that 80,000 traffic offenses over the past year were committed by young motorists.

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That’s not to say older drivers can rest on their laurels, and there are a variety of penalties that can be meted out for different infractions. These can range from a £50 fine for a minor offense to a prison sentence for some of the more serious offences.

To avoid a hefty fine, points on your license, a driving ban or worse, it’s important to understand the rules of the road – and the penalties for breaking them. Here are some of the most common driving offenses recorded on UK roads, from the RAC, and the penalties motorists face for each.


Anyone caught driving more than 45% of the speed limit risks ending up in court

Whether it’s rushing for a date, trying to beat rush hour traffic, or not paying attention to the road you’re driving on, speeding is by far the most common driving offense on UK roads, according to the RAC. If caught unawares, you can be fined £100 and have your driving license validated with three penalty points.

In most cases, drivers are only prosecuted when they exceed the speed limit by 10% plus 2 mph. However, this is only a guideline and the police can intervene, even if the offense seems trivial.

Motorists are advised not to rely on a little leeway, with the RAC insisting that you should never exceed the speed limit in the interests of safety.

For minor speeding violations, drivers may be offered a speed awareness course which they must pay for and complete to avoid points on their licence. But for anyone caught more than 45% over the speed limit, the case is likely to end up in magistrates court. Here you could receive a big fine or a driving ban.

Using your cell phone while driving

Driving while distracted by a mobile phone is something police have taken increasingly seriously in recent years. For this breach, the penalty could include a £200 fine and six penalty points. The case could also go to court and result in a driving ban or a hefty fine of up to £1,000.

The RAC warns that using a handheld device while sitting in traffic is still considered an infraction. Using a ‘hands-free’ device in your car is allowed, but discouraged as it can still be a distraction.

Reckless driving

There are a number of offenses that fall under reckless driving – also known as driving without care or attention. This can include failing to maintain lane discipline on a freeway or two-lane road, or swerving when trying to change radio stations.

For this offense the police can fine you £100 on the spot, with three penalty points on your licence. Behavior that leads to a serious incident will end up in court, where magistrates can impose fines of up to £2,500 and also ban you from driving.

In fatal incidents resulting from a lack of concentration, motorists can be prosecuted for causing death by reckless driving. If convicted, this could lead to a driving ban, an unlimited fine or up to five years in prison.

Dangerous driving

Under the law, the most serious offense of dangerous driving is classified as when a person’s conduct “falls far short of what is expected of competent and safe driving, and it would be obvious for a competent and careful driver that driving in this manner would be dangerous”. Examples include overtaking in a dangerous place or racing with other vehicles.

These cases can be dealt with by the Magistrate’s Court or by a Crown Court for more serious offenses and incidents. The penalties available include an unlimited fine, a driving ban or a prison term of up to 14 years.

Drinking and driving

The legal limit for alcohol consumption is currently 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood. However, motorists are advised not to drink alcohol before getting behind the wheel of a car as it is the only reliable way to ensure that you are under the limit. You also have to be careful when driving in the morning after a night out.

According to the RAC, the police “can stop you at any time while you are driving, and if they suspect you have exceeded the limit, they will probably use a breathalyzer to test the amount of alcohol on your breath”. Those who fail the test will be arrested on suspicion of drunk driving.

If confirmed by a second test at a police station, drivers risk disqualification, an unlimited fine and up to six months in jail. Anyone involved in an accident they cause while over the drinking limit can be sent to prison for 14 years.

They would also be banned for at least two years and subject to an unlimited fine. In addition to having a criminal record, offenders may have to pass an extended driving test to have their license reinstated.

Driving with drugs

Police are increasingly on the lookout for anyone driving under the influence of other drugs, legal or otherwise, that can impair a person’s ability to drive. There are also road tests they can perform if someone is pulled over.

Drugs include illegal varieties such as cocaine or cannabis. However, there are many prescription medications that can also make a person unfit to drive.

Penalties for driving under the influence of drugs include an unlimited fine, a six-month prison sentence and a ban from practicing for at least one year. The RAC also warns that “like drunk driving, you will have a criminal record and may have problems obtaining car insurance in the future or when looking for a job”.

Driving without insurance

It is an offense to operate a motor vehicle on public roads without valid insurance. ANPR (automatic license plate recognition) police cameras can detect cars without insurance. Drivers can be fined £300 on the spot and have their license validated with six penalty points.

Your car can also be seized by the police. And, if the case goes to court, offenders can be issued a driving ban, as well as an unlimited fine.

Driving otherwise than in accordance with a license

This covers a “myriad of offences”, according to the RAC. It includes underage driving, unsupervised driving with an unsupervised provisional license and L-plates, and driving without a licence. Penalties include a fine of up to £1,000, six points on your license and a possible driving ban.

Conduct in case of disqualification

Anyone who drives while disqualified risks immediate arrest and a court appearance. In most cases, a driving ban will be extended and the person fined. Offenders could also be sent to jail if the court decides the offense shows a lack of respect for the law and wants to set an example.

Driving without MOT

Every vehicle on the road must have a valid inspection to demonstrate its technical inspection, with tests carried out once a year. Police ANPR systems can also report a vehicle without an MOT. This means that the sooner you obtain a valid MOT certificate, the better it is to avoid being arrested by officers.

In most cases drivers will be fined £100 for this offense – with no penalty points on your licence. Cases can, however, be taken to court, where fines of up to £1,000 can be imposed.

However, if a vehicle is deemed faultless, the penalty will be more drastic. If so, offenders face £100 and three penalty points for each foul.

In cases where the tires are below the legal tread depth of 1.6mm, the driver of the vehicle could be fined £400 and 12 penalty points and banned from driving. The RAC warns that this could be the case even if a vehicle has a valid MOT certificate.

Notice of fixed penalties

There is a range of offenses that can be sanctioned with a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) fine. There are two types: endorsable FPNs (with points) and non-endorsable FPNs (without points). These include:

  • £50 non-endorsable FPN: for offenses such as stopping on the motorway hard shoulder.
  • Non-endorsable FPNs of £100: these are used for offenses such as driving a vehicle without technical inspection and others without a seat belt.
  • Endorsable FPN of £100: This is the most common fine and is given for offenses such as speeding, reckless driving or hard shoulder driving.
  • Endorsable FPNs of £200: for offenses such as using a mobile phone while driving.
  • Endorsable FPN of £300: This fixed fine is the most expensive and is aimed at motorists driving without insurance.

Officers may decide to offer someone an FPN as an appropriate punishment. If a driver accepts the punishment, and possibly penalty points, then they will be dealt with immediately. Cases go to court when a driver rejects the offer.